Jon Bois is one of my favorite writers online, up in that Mallory Ortberg tier, but his stuff is harder to characterize than any of my other favorites. A lot of his humor writing, especially on Twitter, is in the style of “enthusiastic bumpkin” or “e-mailing relative”—see his 50 fast facts about Super Bowl XLVII, for instance—and yet he’s also capable of real poignancy. A lot of that poignancy comes from his appreciation of randomness and error in supposedly ordered systems: witness Breaking Madden, or my favorite post of his on the death of the NBA, both of which involve him setting up a sports video game with certain odd parameters and just seeing what happens.
Last week, Bois’s love of randomness got its most direct expression yet, through a post purporting to explain what exactly constitutes a “catch” in the NFL. This has been a frustrating topic in football, as high-def instant replay has turned what used to be a quick, if often wrong, decision by the officials into a thicket of legalese and post-facto rationalizations (as I’ve written about here previously). Bois’s piece on the matter—you should go click that link, before I spoil it here—starts off looking like it’s going to be another one of his “the naïf looks at a sports issue” posts, but it ends up going somewhere very different: to a philosophical look about why, exactly, we care about settling this issue and how we could choose to look at it instead. It’s an approach I’d like to see more of in sports writing, one that scrutinizes the assumptions that are so often unspoken in these kinds of issues. It’s also a piece I disagree with on a key point, and it motivated me to think about the beauty I find in sport’s order, as opposed to its randomness.